LARAMIE – On a beautiful spring day, the Wyoming Cowboy Football team concluded 2014 spring practice with its Annual Brown and Gold game on Saturday. Led by the No. 1 defense, the Brown Team captured a 21-14 victory over the Gold Team, featuring the No. 1 offense, in a game played at War Memorial Stadium.
The game was structured such that the No. 1 offense and defensive units faced each other for the majority of the scrimmage, with the No. 2 offensive and defensive units pitted against one another.
After the Gold Team was forced to punt on its first possession of the game, the Brown offense scored on its first possession. Sophomore quarterback Ton Thornton led the Brown squad on a nine-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown pass from Thornton to sophomore fullback Brandon Likenbill. Senior place-kicker Stuart Williams converted the extra point, giving Brown a 7-0 lead.
Wyoming’s No. 1 defense, playing for the Brown team, also forced the Gold Team to punt on its second first quarter possession, and the score was 7-0 in favor of Brown to end the first quarter.
On the Gold Team’s first possession of the second quarter, it looked like Gold, featuring the Pokes’ No. 1 offense was going to tie the game. Senior quarterback Sam Stratton guided the Gold offense 55 yards down the field from the Gold’s own 33-yard line to the Brown 12-yard line. But on a third down and 10 from the 12, Stratton was sacked on his blind side by senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi, who forced Stratton to fumble. Redshirt freshman strong safety Tim Kamana scooped up the fumble and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. Williams added the extra point and Brown had a 14-0 halftime lead.
To start the second half, sophomore quarterback Aaron Young led the Brown offense on a nice opening drive, moving the No. 2 offense 46 yards down field from the Brown 25-yard line to the Gold 29. But a 40-yard field goal attempt by Williams went wide left. Following two punts by Gold and one by Brown, sophomore Thornton came back in to quarterback the Brown Team. With the ball on the Brown 48, following a short punt, Thornton connected with sophomore wide receiver Trent Sewell on a 52-yard TD pass. Williams added the PAT to put the Brown up 21-0 at the end of the third quarter.
Then it was the Gold Team’s time to fight back. On Gold’s second possession of the final period, senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard accounted for 19 passing yards and 12 rushing yards on the drive, while junior running back Shaun Wick rushed for 22 yards on two carries. Kirkegaard capped off a five-play, 53-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Junior place-kicker Justin Martin made the PAT, pulling Gold to within 14 points at 21-7.
After the Gold defense held the Brown offense to a three and out on its next possession, Stratton came back in to guide the Gold offense. The senior rushed for 30 yards on seven carries on the drive. He was joined by sophomore running back Omar Stover, who carried four times for 19 yards. With the addition of a 12-yard pass interference penalty against the defense, the No. 1 offense drove 61 yards in 13 plays with Stratton running in from the one-yard line for the TD. Martin converted the extra point to pull Gold to within seven points at 21-14, and with that Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl came on the field as the Spring Game came to a conclusion.
Immediately after meeting with his team at midfield, fans were allowed on the field to get autographs from the players as Bohl met with the media.
“There were certainly some positive things I took notice of today,” said Bohl. “Defensively, particularly our first team defense, we were pleased. Our defensive front and the pressure they were able to put on our quarterbacks was a real positive. I also saw some good plays by our secondary. That was encouraging. I’m a little bit concerned about our depth on defense, and that was apparent in the course of spring and was apparent today.
“Offensively, we’re a work in progress. There were some good things from our quarterbacks today.
“As we conclude spring football, we’ll finalize the depth chart tomorrow, however I think that will still be fairly fluid as we look at what happens through the course of fall ball and prepare for our Montana game.
“We’ve been really pleased with the effort by our players. They’re doing everything we’ve asked of them, and are making great gains in the weight room. We’re looking forward to getting started in the fall.”
Each of the four quarterbacks in the spring game had good moments. Sophomore Thornton completed 7 of 9 passes (.778) for 117 yards and threw two TD passes — one of three yards to fullback Lukenbill and the other a 52-yard pass to wide receiver Sewell. Senior Kirkegaard completed 6 of 9 pass attempts (.667) for 85 yards and scored on a six-yard TD scamper. Senior Stratton was 5 of 10 passing (.500) for 58 yards, and also had a rushing touchdown from one yard out. Sophomore Young completed 3 of 8 passing (.375) for 66 yards. He threw one interception, but it was on a ball that bounced off a receiver.
At running back junior Wick carried the ball 10 times for the No. 1 offense for 48 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Sophomore Stover, also running with the No. 1 Gold offense, carried the ball 16 times for 40 yards. The running backs for the No. 2 offense on the Brown team were led by sophomore Oscar Nevermann, who led all rushers with 54 yards on 12 carries. Redshirt freshman Joshua Tapscott had six carries for 36 yards.
Leading the receivers was senior Jalen Claiborne for the No. 1 Gold offense. Claiborne caught five passes for 75 yards, including an outstanding leaping catch of 26 yards. He also returned a kickoff 47 yards. Senior tight end J.D. Krill enjoyed his best scrimmage of spring football, catching two passes for 26 yards for the Gold team. Sophomore Sewell, playing for the Brown team, had three catches for 85 yards, including his 52-yard TD reception. Also having a good game for the Brown squad was senior Trey Norman, who had two receptions for 53 yards, including a 27-yard reception.
Defensively, the Cowboys No. 1 unit recorded 6.0 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss, forced a fumble and retuned that fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Leading the way was junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough and senior linebacker Devyn Harris. Yarbrough had 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Harris contributed 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Fellow senior linebacker Jordan Stanton ended the day with nine tackles and 1.5 TFLs. Senior defensive end Puletasi had four tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFLs to go with his forced fumble on a sack that led to redshirt freshman safety Kamana returning the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown.
Bohl was asked about seeing his No. 1 defensive unit score a touchdown on a turnover in Saturday’s game.
“What do they say, `Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships,’ there’s a lot to be said for that,” said Bohl. “Our style of football has always been such that we’re going to leverage our defense. We were pleased with our performance today, but that’s not to say we’re complacent or completely happy. I think our defensive front is going to fit well with our 4-3 defensive scheme, and we’re happy with those guys.
“Our defensive ends are high-energy guys that have played football in the Mountain West and have played at a high level. We’re going to need to leverage that to take some pressure off other areas of our football team. Along with that though, we can’t completely focus on the ends. A lot of that pressure comes about due to push — push up the middle from our defensive tackles. I thought our defensive tackles did a nice job today.”
On the other side of the ball, Bohl was asked to give an assessment of where he thinks the Cowboy offensive line is at the end of spring practice.
“We like where we’re at, but we’ve got a little ways to come there,” said Bohl. “Our defensive front is good, but they’re certainly not ready for the NFL. I think we need to take a measured look at that. There are too many sacks for us, and we’ve got to improve on that. Our offense is not built for a lot of third down and long situations. We’re not a third down and long team. We need to be on the field creating second down and sixes and situations like that.”
With senior wide receiver Claiborne generating 166 all-purpose yards on Saturday, the first-year Wyoming head coach was asked how nice it was to have an explosive player like Claiborne on the Cowboy offense.
“He had a nice jet sweep, and a couple really nice catches today,” Bohl responded. “He’s really shown a great deal of determination all spring. He’s had a back issue all spring long that he has continued to fight through. When you’re a thoroughbred wide receiver and gut it out like he has — that is impressive. He made some great plays today.”
Bohl was questioned on where his team will go now that Spring football has concluded.
“We’re entering into a critical portion of our game,” said Bohl. “We made great strides in the weight room this first portion of our preparation. Now we’ve got to bring it home. They’ll spend time with Coach (Zach) Duval and the rest of the strength staff working on nutrition, speed and conditioning. All of those things are really important for our football team, so that is going to be our next step.
“As coaches, I have some national committees that I am serving on, but our assistant coaches will be out Spring recruiting. Recruiting is an ongoing process, and we need to get into as many high schools as we can to continue to upgrade our talent. Our assistant coaches will be gone a good portion of this month and the month of May.”
Finally, Bohl was asked to compare what he saw in the Brown and Gold Game as compared to the previous two spring scrimmages.
“Today is a little bit of a mixed bag, because quite frankly we didn’t throw the whole kitchen sink out there,” said the Cowboy head coach. “There were a lot of pressures we didn’t show, and a lot of things offensively that we didn’t do, but I was pleased with how our guys competed. This football team really wants to be good, and it’s our job as coaches to show them how to be good and change the culture.
“It’s all a process in becoming a `Cowboy Tough’ football team. It’s not an easy process. We’re pleased with our progress, but we’re not content with where we’re at.”
Saturday began with a Free Youth Clinic for boys and girls ages 12 and under, that was hosted by the Cowboy players at 12:30 in War Memorial Stadium. And the day ended with the players meeting with fans, family members and the media on the field afterward.